Multicultural Law Students Association

Race Culture and the Law 2001

Willamette University College of Law and the Multicultural Law Students Association (MLSA) hosted "Race, Culture, and the Law 2001: The Path to Justice" - a two-day symposium that highlighted race, culture, and equality in American justice.

On Friday, April 6th, MLSA presented a three-part program to an audience of 100 high school students, college students, and community members. First, the program featured a re-enactment of important segments of State of Oregon v. Santiago Ventura Morales. Santiago Ventura Morales is a Mixteco native of Mexico who was accused of murdering a migrant farm worker in Oregon. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison after a trial in which he was provided a Spanish interpreter, despite the fact that Spanish was not his native language. The language problems and other deficiencies in his trial led to a successful movement to advocate for his release - a movement initiated by three of the jurors who originally convicted him. After his release, the Clackamas County District Attorney's Office dismissed all charges against him.

Second, after the re-enactment, students in attendance were able to meet a panel of minority attorneys who discussed their experiences from law school through their present-day practice. The panelists included: Stella Manabe, Oregon State Bar Affirmative Action Program; Will Childs, Britt & Childs; Hong Huynh, Miller Nash; Michael Washington, Oregon State Board of Parole; Lester Seto, solo practitioner; and James Davis, Safeco Insurance.

Third, students were able to hear Santiago Ventura Morales discuss his story in his own words. Mr. Ventura traveled from his present-day home in Fresno, California, to share his experiences with our community. Accompanying him was Filemon Lopez, a radio talk show host for Radio Bilingue, a Mixteco radio program out of Fresno, California.

On Saturday, April 7th, MLSA presented a community dialogue on race, culture, and American justice. This was the first program certified as satisfying the diversity continuing legal education requirements recently mandated by the Oregon Supreme Court.

Approximately 130 people gathered on the Willamette University College of Law campus to take part in the all-day program. Four panels consisting of 26 panelists helped facilitate the dialogue.  Panel topics included: defining racism; an assessment of the workplace in terms of racial and cultural tolerance; current issues  involving the intersection of race and law; and possible solutions for  racism both in and out of the courts. Panelists included Oregon Supreme Court Justice Paul De Muniz, ex-representative Joann Bowman, and many others.

The program also included a lunch featuring our guest speakers Santiago Ventura Morales and Filemon Lopez.

The two-day symposium was sponsored by: Willamette University College of law Office of the Dean, Office of Admission, Student Bar Association, Minority Affairs Committee, and the Multicultural Law Students Association; Willamette University Office of Residence Life and Office of Multicultural Affairs; and the Oregon State Bar Affirmative Action Committee.